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The Communal Image of Latvian Jewry

by Isaac Maor (Meirsons)

Latvian Jewry was a singular tribe. It continued within itself the best of the popular and community tradition of Russian Jewry to which it belonged until 1918 when the independent Democratic Latvian Republic was established. It absorbed the cultural influence of Western Jewry which was to close a neighbour; yet the assimilationist trend never took deep root there. In its spiritual life, it combined the Lithuanian scholarly approach to Torah with Habad Hassidim, the intellectualism of old–time Ashkenazi Jewry with the ardour of the Safed Kabbalists, the spiritual rabbinical aristocratic awareness with the simplicity of the Jewish masses, the yearnings for national redemption with a revolutionary social ferment. There you would find traditional piety and a secularist environment dwelling at ease together.

The Jews of Latvia were not of a single kind from the social and economic viewpoint either. There was a recognizable social difference among them and they engaged in manifold and widely–differing crafts, trades and professions. Among them, you would find merchants – large, medium and small; industrialists and craftsmen of every kind; manual and skilled workers, clerks and members of the free professions.

All these elements together – economic and spiritual alike – found full expression in the lively and active Jewish national community life and the general political life of the Latvian Republic. There were political parties of all the colours of the rainbow; trade unions and craftsmen associations, federation of merchants and industrialist, engineers, physicians, lawyers, students and high school pupils. There were teachers' federations and cultural workers, scientists and artists, writers and journalists, actors and musicians. There were youth movements of every kind: scouts, pioneers, political groups, sports societies and cultural clubs. There was an extensive network of credit and consumer cooperatives besides manifold societies for charity and aid. All of these derived from and set their stamp upon the rich and colourful life of this community with its hundred thousand souls.

Thousands of Jewish children attended Hebrew and Yiddish schools in accordance with the compulsory free education law of the land and thanks to the practice of national cultural autonomy, the Ministry of Education and Culture had special departments for the National Minorities; Jewish, Russian, German, Polish and Lithuanian. Each of these departments was

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directed by members of the minority concerned. The activity of the Jewish Department was very complicated on account of the language dispute between the Yiddishists and the Hebraists. The extreme Yiddishists were most aggressive and wished to eradicate the Hebrew schools. In this they were assisted by the Bund which was a Jewish section of the Latvian Social Democrat Party and put pressure on the Social Democrats to adopt a resolution requiring all members of their party in the Seim (where they were the largest single group) to vote against Hebrew schools.

However, the Zionist Delegates in the Seim, consisting of Rabbi M. Nurock of the Mizrahi and Professor M. Laserson of the Zeirei Zion, together with Yerahmied Vinnik, Zeirei Zion representative in the Riga Municipality, came to the defence of the Hebrew schools and demanded equal rights for the two languages. The Latvian Socialists, who had enough troubles of their own, usually used to answer the Zionist Socialist leaders and Hebrew teachers more or less as follows: “you come to terms with our Jews of the Bund and then we shall not interfere at all with your private affairs”.

On this question, however, it was easier to come to terms with the non–Jews than with their Jews…. We used to answer the main argument of the Bund, namely that Hebrew is a “clerical, bourgeois and reactionary language” by pointing out to the Social Democrats that this was the language of Jewish workers in the Land of Israel and that thousands of Jewish parents of the labouring classes in the Latvian Republic were accustomed to sending their children to Hebrew schools. In this quarrel of the languages, the Bundist and the Jewish Communists used to collaborate. However, the communal weight of the Communists was very small. The Latvian Communist Party, of which the Jewish Communists formed a section, was quite a minor body, apart from being illegal. They operated under the labels of Cultural and Sports Societies, etc.

The Zionists and protagonists of Hebrew stood firm so the Hebrew schools grew, expanded and flourished. Yet, apart from the extreme Yiddishist attack, the Hebrew Movement had to face another – that of the Jewish assimilationists who maintained schools in Russian and German for Jewish children. However, in the final years of the Democratic Republic, shortly before the Fascist coup d'état on 15th May, 1934, a law was issued placing Jewish schools conducted in other than the Jewish languages under the authority of the specific Education Department whose language served as language of instruction. Finally, they were ordered to go over to the national language of instruction – Latvian – to be included in the general school

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system and the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. To be sure, the general Latvian cultural level was too low to attract Jews or induce them to assimilate. In spite of this, a number of Jewish foreign language schools submitted to the order so as not to have to go over to Hebrew or Yiddish. This dispute came to an end with the destruction of Latvian democracy while all the others were terminated by the destruction of the entire Jewish community.

The vital spirit in Hebrew education was the “Hamoreh” Federation to which teachers of various Zionist schools of thought belonged, among whom the supporters of Labour Eretz Israel were the most influential. The most active of them was Z. Michelson (Michaeli); the martyred Samuel Gram who was murdered by the Nazi in Riga; Zvi Maimon, Samuel Herr, J.H. Port and, of other Zionist groups – the martyred M. Latt, a revisionist murdered by the Nazi in Riga; Meir Weinberg , a revisionist; Rabbi Levin, M. Breitbart, a general Zionist and others.

The Yiddish schools were organized chiefly by the “Tsentrale Iddishe Shul Organizatzi” (the Central Jewish School Organization) known as CISHO. Participants in this organisation included Bundist, Folkist and supporters of Communism. The active Folkist was Mendel Mark and his brother Yudel Mark, the well–known writer and philologist who afterwards moved to Lithuania and headed the Yiddishist Gymnasium in Wilkomir (both brothers are now in the U.S.) The active Bund members were Israel Braun, Isaac Berz and his wife Bertha. Among other Yiddishists, mention should be made of the two sisters Wolfson, Zadok Levin, Dr. B. Lifshitz and Joseph Fabricant.

Apart from the Yiddish schools organized by the CISHO, there were others – chiefly in the small towns – with a “synthetic” approach; meaning that Yiddish was the language of instruction but Hebrew studies played a prominent part. Hebrew was also taught in the CISHO schools but on a very minor scale. In addition, there were the religious Yiddish schools of “Torah Vederech Eretz” under the influence and guidance of the Agudat Israel – these being both elementary and secondary schools. There were also religious schools in Hebrew known as “Hadarim Metukanim” which were elementary schools leading to the Tushiya Secondary schools under Mizrahi influence. As remarked, all these schools operated within the setting of national cultural autonomy which permitted freedom of educational trends.

There were three central institutions in Riga where teachers were trained. These were: 1) the General Teachers' Seminary founded by the Jewish section of the Ministry of Culture and headed by Zeev Polotzkoi, assistant

Leib Shalit Nathan Abraham Scheinessohn
(1790–1860)
Wolf Luntz
Eliezer Ettingen committee member of “the community
Of Jews of Shlok dwelling in Riga”.
Jacob Hindin
I. (Zhano) Tron Max Scheinfeld Mordechai Nurok

First committee of the “society for the Dissemination of Enlightment”. Riga, 1898
Third from left: P. Mintz – at his right: Leib Shaht.
First from right:Dr. M. Scheinfeld

Great synagogue in Gogl str. Riga (1871)

Jewish Delegates From Kurland To the Russian Parliaments. ”Duma” 1. 1906–1917)
Dr. Nissan Katznelson
1st Duma
  Jacob Shapiro
2nd Duma
Lazar Nisselovitch
3rd Duma
  Dr. Ezekiel Gurevitch
4th Duma
Leib Fishman Jacob Landau Jacob Hellman
Max Laserson Noah Maisel Jacob Hoffman
Wolf Latzky–Bertholdy Isaac Jaffe Hermann Wasserman
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook Rabbi Meir Simcha Cohen
(Gaon of Rogatchov).
Rabbi Joseph Rosen
Rabbi Mendel Zack Mordechai Dubin Shimon Wittenberg
Rabbi Levi Ovchinsky Rabbi Ben–Zion Dan–Jahia Baruch leib Rosowsky

Address of honour to Cantor B.L. Rosovsky on his seventeenth birthday after forty years of service as Cantor of the Congregation. Presented by the Community of Riga. 5th Kislev 5672 (26th November 1911).

Great synagogue (die schul) in Windau

Bikkur–Holim Hospital in Riga

The sons of Shlomo Shalit.
Seated r. to l: Elijahu, Zalman, Mordechai
Standing r.to l: Lipman, Tuvia, and Nachman.

Abraham Sobolevitch, Ulrich Milman, Rudolf Kaplan

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Director of the Department of Culture. 2) The (Yiddish) Teachers' Seminary of the CISHO and 3) the Froebel School of Kindergartens established by the Hamoreh Federation. This school was headed by Z. Michelson.

 

II

Religious and secular leaders, renowned scholars and sages, dwelt among Latvian Jewry. Here let us mention great Torah scholars such as the world–famous Rabbi Reb Meir Simha, author of the work “Or Sameah” (joyous light) and Rabbi Joseph Rosen, the Gaon of Rogatchov, author of “Tsafenat Paaneah” (interpreter of secrets) both of whom dwelt in Dvinsk, a city and another in Israel. Then there were the rabbis of the ancient Don Yahia family whose ancestors had come from Spain and Portugal and who lived in Lutzin: Rabbi Eleazar of blessed memory followed by his martyred son, Rabbi Ben Zion who was tortured and murdered by the Nazi. Both of them wrote and published commentaries and novella on the Shulhan Arukh. There was also the martyred Rabbi Zack, chief Rabbi of Riga who was also tortured and murdered by the Nazi. In Mitau, the capital of Kurland lived Rabbi Levi Oychinsky who published a valuable work on the history of the rabbis of Kurland. For several years, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneurson of Lubavitch also lived in Riga before transferring his seat to the U.S. Here, as elsewhere, he had his following of thousands of Habad Hassidim. Last but by no means least was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook of blessed and saintly memory, former chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel who spent several years in Kurland as Rabbi of Bausk.

Of the secular scholars and spiritual leaders, mention should be made of the writer and communal worker Z. Latski–Bertholdy – the leading Jewish Communist writer and publicist, Dr. M. Schatz–Anin; prof. P.M. Mintz who lectured on criminal law at the Riga University; Prof. Asher Gullak, author of “The Foundations of Jewish Law” and who lectured on Jewish history at the Teachers' Seminary in Riga and was afterwards Professor of Jewish Law at the Hebrew University; Prof. Max Matatiahu Laserson who published many outstanding works on the Theory of the State and the Philosophy of Law; Prof. Zentnerschwer who was professor of Chemistry at the Riga University; Prof. Pereferkovitch who translated the Mishna in Russian; Dozent Weintraub, instructor in Philosophy and Logic. For some time, the Jewish sociologist Jacob Lestchinsky also lived in Riga. The famous lawyer O.O. Gruzenberg who defended Mendel Beiliss in the Russian Blood Libel case shortly before World War I,

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Also lived for several years in Riga and took a very active part in Jewish communal life. Last of all, the martyred historian Prof. Simon Dubnow spent his last years in Riga and wrote his reminiscences there and murdered by the Nazi.

Famous artists and musicians also came from Latvian Jewry. To mention only a few: Marc Lavry the composer and conductor; Prof. Salomon Rosowsky composer and musicologist, son of the famous Cantor Baruch Rosowsky, at one time director of the Jewish Peoples' Conservatory in Riga; and two outstanding pupils of Cantor Rosowsky who afterwards became world–famous singers – Hermann Jadlowker the Tenor and Joseph Schwartz the Baritone.

The following played a leading part in the Jewish press: Dr. Jacob Hellman; Yerahmiel Vinnik; Z. Latski–Bertholdy; Tanhum Eidus; Michael Kitai; M. Gertz–Mowshovitz who wrote a volume on “Twenty–Five Years of the Jewish Press in Latvia” and also Mikhail Yo, the painter and art critic.

Naturally this is not a full list of those whose names deserve special mention, yet, even the brief list given here indicates the spiritual image and cultural quality of Latvian Jewry.

Mention should also be made of the part played by the various clubs in fostering cultural life. Some of them enjoyed Government support. Those in Riga included: The General Jewish Club whose building served for performances by the Peoples' Jewish Theatre and public meetings of the various parties. The Peretz Club of the Bund; the Kultur Liga which was communist–orientated and had a like–minded students' organization – the Akademisher Farein; the Bialik Cub of the Zeirei Zion with its outstanding Oratorio Choir directed by Abramis; the Brenner Club of the Z.S. which merged with the Bialik Club when the two Zionist Socialist Parties united in January 1931.

The Zionist House in Riga was a large club a 11, Merkelia (Pauluzzi street) which played a part like n°10 Meinecke Str in Berlin and was the initial centre for all the Zionist Institutions; the Jewish National Fund; Keren Hayesod; Palestine Office, etc. But, in due course, these grew larger and established offices of their own. The building served whenever necessary as a home for any Zionist Party or Youth organization which needed quarters.

 

III

The Jewish political parties engaged in their activities not only in the Jewish community but also in the elected institutions of the State and the

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Municipalities. When the establishment of the Republic was proclaimed in 1918, and the provisional legislative body – the National Council – was constituted (it was not elected), Jewish representatives from all the existent political trends entered. The Constituent Assembly which was elected in 1920 had a smaller representation of Jewish parties since they did not all gain representatives. In the Seim, the permanent legislative body, the number of Jewish parties decreased even more. Those represented were the Agudat Israel, Bund, Mizrahi and Zeirei Zion.

Most of the Jewish population of Latvia were Zionist but this state of affairs was not fully reflected in the political representation for in the elections to state and municipal institutions, the Jewish citizen was mostly swayed not by ideological considerations but by practical daily needs. For example, in political elections, the Agudat Israel gained more votes than the other parties, relatively speaking. Those unfamiliar with the conditions and character of the community might mistakenly suppose that the Agudat was the strongest political group. In actual fact, however, it was not a political party in the ordinary sense of the word. The Agudat Israel of Latvia shared little more than the name with that party as it functioned in other countries of the Exile. Its communal weight was not considerable, but the personal activities of its chief representative, Mordechai Dubin, were largely directed to the daily requirements of the average Jew. Thanks to his personal popularity, he was elected for two different Districts – Riga and Latgale. During the early years, he turned the second seat over to his comrade R. Wittenberg of Dvinsk who was not particularly outstanding either spiritually or as a man of action. In due course, Simeon Wittenberg of the Zeirei Agudat Israel in Riga was chosen as the second representative. He was a talented lawyer with an excellent general education who set out to give his party a political–clerical character and to introduce the practices of the World Agudat Israel into the communal life of Latvian Jewry as well. He was not particularly successful under the Democracy but the situation changed entirely after the Fascist coup d'état. We shall refer to this in greater detail below. The martyred Simeon Wittenberg is known to have perished in tragic circumstances in the Nazi Concentration Camp in Stuttgart.

While most of Latvian Jewry was deeply rooted in popular traditional Judaism, they had no particular interest as a general rule in any political religious Movement. For the above reasons, however, even non–religious Jews used to vote for the Aguda representatives. In reality they voted not for the party but for its representative – Dubin. He was a Habad Hassid

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and a timber merchant by profession. He was a typical faithful popular Shtadlan (intercessor) who made no distinction between one Jew and another; treated them all as equals and was not concerned whether the man he helped had voted for him or not. He would do his best to free a young Jew arrested for illegal Communist activities just as he saw to it that Jewish soldiers should be given leave for Jewish festivals. He would try to obtain a permit for a flax merchant, demand Government support for synagogues or Yeshivot or would vote in the Seim for a Government grant to the Jewish Theatre. In his “political” alignment, if he had any such thing, Dubin went his own way. He regularly and systematically supported the Right Wing in the Seim arguing more or less as follows: “The Socialists have to support the Jews anyway according to their programme but the Right Wing has to be kept on friendly terms so that they should not harm us….” After the Fascist coup d'état on 15th May, 1934, when Karl Ulmanis, leader of the Conservative Peasant Society became a dictator, the latter remembered the past kindnesses of Mordechai Dubin and appointed him “leader” for Jewish Affairs.

Dubin continued to engage in Shtadlanut under the new conditions and entrusted all communal affairs, particularly culture, education and schools, to the young men of the Agudat Israel. These abandoned all communal fairness, exploited their preferential position and wrought havoc in the secular school system. They compelled the teachers to wear skull–caps and dismissed those who refused, declaring that any teacher with liberal views were unsuitable for the Fascist Authorities. Incidentally, they prohibited the teaching of Bialik and Jewish history according to Dubnow in the schools. At the same time, Dubin, in accordance with his own practice, saw to it that the dismissed Jewish teachers all received compensation or regular pensions.

In 1940, Dubin was arrested by the Russians. He was released in due course and continued to deal with communal matters, baking Matzot and dealing with the affairs of the Hevra Kadisha Burial Society. He was, therefore, re–arrested and died in a concentration camp. In spite of all difficulties, he held firm and fast to his principles, remaining Orthodox and observing all commandments until the last moments of his life.

Rabbi Mordechai Nurock, head of the Mizrabi, was a communal leader of quite a different type. The Mizrahi in Latvia was also hardly a mass political movement although its representatives, unlike those of the Agudat, supported the communal democratic tradition of the World Zionist Movement. Many voted for the Mizrahi list largely because they so esteemed the personality of Rabbi Nurock. He was the son of an outstanding family in

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Kurland that belonged to the rabbinical family Lichtenstein, the son of the Rabbi of Mitau, capital of Kurland. He enjoyed an extensive Jewish and general education and was popular among Baltic Jewry. As a modern member of Parliament in every sense of the word, (he was a delegate to the International Congress of Minorities) was also highly respected by non–Jewish circles. In the Seim, he usually supported the Democratic and Left Wing and every combination of a Leftist and Liberal Coalition took him into account. For many years, Rabbi Nurock was Chairman of the Keren Hayesod Centre in Riga and he was constantly returned as a Latvian Delegate to Zionist Congresses.

Apart from Rabbi Nurock, the active leaders of the Mizrahi included his brother, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Nurock of Libau who was also a Seim member for some time; Rabbi Ben Zion Don Yahya of Lutzin; Moshe Weinberg; Menahem Mendel Gor; Hayim Yaffe; Rabbi Zeev Arie Rabbiner and Reuven Hovsha. Sympathizers with the Mizrahi included well–known industrialist Abraham Sobolevitch, a man of outstanding qualities and a philanthropist; Keren Hayesod leader and head of several charitable societies.

There were two Jewish Socialists in the Seim: Prof.Max Matatiahu Laserson of the Zeirei Zion (whose representative in the Constituent Assembly had been Dr. Jacob Hellman) and Dr. Noah Maisel of the Bund. They were elected by the Jews of Latgale – the easternmost province of Latvia – which contained most of the poor and toiling Jews. Naturally they were both included in any left–wing coalition but waged a harsh communal struggle with one another chiefly with regard to Hebrew schools. About this we have written above.

However, there were also occasions when all the Jewish delegates in the Seim united together. This happened whenever the Anti–Semitic parties tried to restrict the rights of the Jewish minority or their representatives that spoke against the Jews. At such times, all the Jews rose as one man to repel the attack and each hit back in his own style.

The Jewish Seim delegates mostly spoke only on Jewish questions but Prof. Laserson, as an expert on International Law, also used to participate in general discussions and would sometimes address Plenary Sessions on behalf of the Legal Commission.

The Bund, as already mentioned, was organised as a section of the Latvian Social Democrat Party. In spite of this, it was fully involved in Jewish life and was very active among the Jewish workers. At the same time, it always did its best, in accordance with long–established Bundist practice, to

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appear as “the only representative of the Jewish Proletariat”. This monopoly was not unsuccessfully contested by the Zionist Socialist Movement of which more will be said below. The Bund had their Youth Organisation and the “Zukunft” Student Organisation. Apart from Dr. N. Maisel, the following were among the outstanding leaders: In Riga, I. Rabinovitz was a delegate to the Latvian Constituent Assembly and an active Trade Unionist. Eng.Isaac Berz, head of the Yiddishist Gymnasium was also a delegate to the Constituent Assembly. The teacher, Israel Braun was the brother of an underground leader known as “Sergei” in the days of the Tsar. In Dvinsk, there were P. Meiksin and the journalist Isaac Levin–Shatzkes. In Libau, there was the teacher Alkishik, Bann and the dentist Berzner. The leaders of the Youth and Students' Organisation were Moshe Dribin, Isaac Seligmann and Jungelson.

 

IV

Yet, political activity was only part of the communal life of Latvian Jewry. As remarked, the Jewish population was largely Zionist. The Zionist parties engaged in widespread and continuous activities on behalf of the National Funds. The Labour Eretz Israel Movement also worked for Histadrut institutions in Eretz Israel. Shekel–selling and Congress elections engaged thousands of Jews in every town and village while Halutz training absorbed hundreds of youngsters of both sexes and all Zionist currents. As a rule, representatives of all groups were elected to the Zionist Congresses: Mizrahi, General Zionists, Socialist Zionists, Revisionists and later the Jewish State Party (the Grossmanists) which was small and had little communal influence.

The General Zionists were almost all Progressives of Group A. They were headed by Eliezer Ettingen, representative of the Shell Company in Latvia, who virtually maintained the party he represented. The General Zionists gave the movement a group of active and faithful leaders some of whom we mention here. Advocate Z. Tron, delegate to the Latvian Constituent Assembly and for many years, chairman of the Latvian Jewish National Fund Centre; Dr. J. Jaffe, director of the Jewish “Bikkur Holim” Hospital; Dr. H. Wassermann, head of the Society for Art and Science and founder of the Riga Hebrew Gymnasium; Mr. Payenson, chairman of the Eretz Israel Office and Mr. Scheinberg, its long–standing Secretary; Dr. Raik, member of the Eretz Israel Office; the well –known merchant, Mendel Lulov, supporter of Hehalutz and Labour Eretz Israel with Mrs. Lulov who also actively supported Hehalutz and the League for Labour Eretz

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Israel; Mr. Finkelman, veteran worker for the Jewish National Fund, first in Dvinsk and later in Riga; Zalman Rabinovitch; Dr. Abraham Salkind; Prof. Benjamin Sieff, the well–known publicist and economist who afterwards lectured at the High School of Law and Economics in Tel–Aviv; Schechter the Hebrew teacher, a veteran Latvian Zionist; the veteran Zionist Abraham Groys; Hayyim Joseph Gordon; Hayyim Tov and of the younger men who were active in the Herzlia Zionist Youth and the Hehaver Students Organisation: Dr. J. Shraga and Advocate Boris Gurevitch. Last of all, the Zionist “patriarch” and honorary chairman of National Zionist Conventions – Rabbi Naphtali Levin of Lutzin who came to Eretz Israel and lived with his grandson in Kvutz Kinneret where he passed away at a ripe old age.

The Wizo and Young Wizo Organisations did a great deal for the National Funds and many of the members of Young Wizo came to Eretz Israel. Among their leading figures mention should be made of Mrs. J. Friedlaender; Mrs. Raissa Rabinovitz; Mrs. Rachel Pernik; Mrs. R. Weinberg; Mrs. Lydia Dolgitzer and Mrs. J. Genin.

The visit paid by Zeev Jabotinsky to Riga in 1923 led to the foundation in Latvia of the Zionist Revisionist Party and the Betar Youth Movement. (This was the first branch in the world). The Revisionists were headed by Dr. Jacob Hoffman, a very active and faithful Zionist. Together with him were A.B. Gamzu of Lutzin, Elhanan Halperin, M. Sussman, A. Crystal and others. For several years there in lived and worked on the editorial staff of “Dos Folk” in Riga with Z. Latzki–Bertholdy, the well–known journalist Dr. Joseph Schechtman, companion and follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, who in due course became the representative of the Revisionists in the highest institutions of the Zionist Organisation.

The Betar Organisation gathered its own dedicated and active Zionist youth. Among its leaders mention should be made of Aaron Propes, Engineer Michelson, Advocate M.Joelson, M. Zelikovitch, M. Gold, Z. Levenberg, A. Dissentchik, B. Lubotzky (now Benjamin Eliav), Nathan Michlin and D. Wahrhaftig. Throughout the years of its existence, the Latvian Betar maintained an agricultural training farm. Special mention should be made of their marine training ship. They acquired the “Theodor Herzl” of 300 tons with the assistance of the “Yacht Club” and the contributions of Rudolf Kaplan, owner of the Delka Textile Factory in Riga; and they gave marine training to scores of youngsters.

The Revisionists Party, together with its youth movements of Betar and the Hashmonai Students Cooperation, was a very active Zionist group

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indeed and this was reflected in the elections to Zionist Congresses. For some time, they issued their own newspaper “Ovent–Post” which was closed at the time of the Fascist coup d'état.

When the Revisionist Party split, a “Grossmanist” Group was established in Riga and headed by Nahum Moskowsky. Its active leaders included Moshe Cohen, both of them had formerly been members of the Zeirei Zion.

The largest and strongest Zionist Party, which operated in all fields of communal and political life, was the United Zionist Socialist Party (Zeirei Zion – Z.S.). It received a relative majority in all elections for Zionist Congresses.

The Zeirei Zion Party in Riga was founded as a “Peoples Fraction” as early as 1912 by Zeev Levenberg, a delegate to the Zionist Congress before World War I, Hadassah Schneurson–Litwin and Abba Karnibad.

When the Latvian Republic was established, the Zeirei Zion became one of the leading parties of the Jewish community. Apart from Dr. Jacob Hellman and Prof. Max Laserson who have already been mentioned, the party had a number of active members who left their impression in every field of communal life. The chairman of the Central Committee was Eng. Mendel Bobe, one of the leading workers for the Kupat Holim of Riga who was also active in Credit Cooperatives and the Clerks' Union. Other active members included: the gifted journalist Yerahmiel Vinnik; his wife Zosia née Wittenberg (who perished under the Nazi); Meir Ziegler and his wife Rivka née Meirson who also perished under the Nazi; Advocate Philip Latzi who was a delegate at the National Council; Sussman Galle who perished under the Nazi; the teacher Z. Michelson and his brother Zvi Michelson; Dr. Z. Gordin – a member of the Dvinsk Municipality who was active in the OZE; the pharmacist Feibush Riebush of Rezhitza; Eng. Zalman Chanutin; Judah Jaffe who was engaged in the Credito Cooperation of Dvinsk; Isaac Weisspap and Antonovsky of Lutzin; Leib Tagger, one of the founders of the journal “Unser Weg”; Moshe Gerson, a founder of the Hashahar Student Society; the pharmacist Ber Levin; the publisher Moshe Lvovitch; Joseph Krupkin, vice–chairman of the Eretz Israel Office in Riga; the dentist Dr. Zvi Liknaitsky. Hehalutz leaders included Moshe Levius and Jacob Seltzer; Ezekiel Magidson and Baruch Cohen both of Libau; Dr. Zeev Merlin; Zalman Etkin, etc.

The Zeirei Zion played a large part in setting up the general Jewish press in Latvia. In addition, the Party published the Zionist daily: “Unser

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Weg” whose chief editor was Dr. Jacob Hellman while the editorial secretary was Moshe Schattenstein.

The Z.S. Party was founded in 1922 from the left wing of the Zeirei Zion after the split in that party. The first group was established a year earlier in Dvinsk on the initiative of Samuel Sragovitch but the party began to operate on a countrywide scale only shortly after the split. It expanded activities following the arrival of Dr. V. Adler from Russia. (In 1929 he received a visa to visit his family in Moscow and stayed there. In 1939 we learnt that he was no longer alive).

The members of the last Central Committee before the Union with Zeirei Zion were: J. Meirson (Maor), chairman; eng. Joshua Hayyimovitch, secretary; Jacob Shlez; eng. Abraham Ribovsky who was active in the ORT; the teacher J.H. Port; Agronom Arieh Liak; Dr. Abraham Liak the lawyer; the teacher Moshe Bliach; Dr. Shneour Levenberg. Active members were: Dr. M. Zand member of the Dvinsk Municipality; and in Libau, Maoshe Elkes; Eng. P. Leviatan and the brothers Eidelman. Among other founders mention should also be made of Zalman Slivkin and Alta Rachman.

The Z.S. party succeeded in bringing to the Halutz Movement large groups of working and studying youth who had formerly been far from Zionism. It also brought in Jewish workers and working intellectuals. The representatives of the party were actively engaged in Hehalutz, in Zionist Institutions, Trade Unions, Municipalities and Jewish Communities. A Zionist Socialist Youth Organisation known as “Z.S. Jugendverband (Noar Borochow”) was organised by the Party. Its active members included: Alter Goldman; Nathan Neishul; Abraham Burstein; Arie Liak; Simeon Draznin; Naphtali Joel; Moshe Schwalk; Zvi Chernobrod and Dr. Maharik. Mention should also be made of some of the active female members: Golda Pitkevitch; Luba Levi and Bella Liak. Special mention should be made of Haver Minkov (Hayyim Leib).

After the union between the two labour parties Ahdut Haavoda and Hapoel Hatzair and the establishment of Mapai in Eretz Israel in 1930, the two Latvian Zionist Socialist parties were the first to unite in the Diaspora. The Union Conference met in Riga in January 1931 and set up the United Zionist Socialist party. This union aroused a considerable echo in local Jewish life and many young working and studying Jews joined on that occasion.

Zionist Socialist youth was organised in three groups: The Hashomer Hatzair (NETSAH, initials of Noar Tsofi Halutzi, pioneer scout youth);

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Noar Borochow (Z.S. Yugent); and Gordonia. There was also the “Hashhar” Zionist Socialist Students' Federation. Many members of the Latvian Hashomer Hatzair are to be found in kibbutzim: Abraham Ettingen; Moshe Averbuch; A. Pruver; Eliezer Drobish; Moshe Tel–Tsur; etc. Special mention should be made of Sioma Sheinkman who drowned in Lake Kinneret shortly after his arrival in Eretz Israel. Most of the Gordonia members are to be found in Mishmarot and others in Geva. Active Hashahar members now in Tel–Aviv include: Immanuel Glickman and his wife Etia Gamosh; Baruch Bag; Judge Eleazar Selikson; Joshua Hayyimovitch, etc. The Hashahar representative on the Riga University Students' Council was Dr. Shneour Levenberg now at the head of the Jewish Agency offices in London.

The United Party Central committee organised all the Zionist Socialist Youth Movements in a single Federation and ensured friendly relations and cooperation between them. Representatives of the Youth Organisations attended meetings of the Party Central Committee in an advisory capacity.

As remarked, the Zionist Socialist Party faced the severe public competition of the Bund both in Jewish and general Socialist Movements for the Bund lost no opportunity of impugning the Socialism of Zionists in the eyes of the Latvian Socialists. Yet in spite of the ideological and political contests between the two parties, animosity was absent between their members. Indeed, there were cases of personal friendship. The same may be said regarding the other communal currents in Latvian Jewry, an indication of their cultural level.

Both sections of the Poalei Zion were also found in Riga. They were small groups of no particular public weight. The left–wing Poalei Zion was headed by Moshe Herzbach. The members of this group did not participate in any Zionist activity, but were close to the Jewish Communists. At first, they collaborated with the latter in the Kultur Liga. Later, they set up their own Club called “Licht” (light) but merged with the Communists in due course.

The right–wing Poalei Zion was a very small group. When this party joined the Z.S. in Vienna in 1925, the veteran Hebrew teacher, Samuel Herr, joined the Z.S. Central Committee as their representative.

To round off this description of community activity, one should mention two other groups which, to be sure, were not large–scale political movements but were important on account of the personalities that headed them. These were the National Democrats and the members of the Folks–Partei. The former consisted largely of the leaders of the “Society for the Dissemination of Culture (AFE)” and were non–Zionists. At first

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they were openly anti–Zionist but during the final years, they also worked for the Land of Israel and even supported the Training Centres. In Riga, this Society maintained not only an excellent Vocational Training School in Riga but also a Training Farm for agriculture. Almost all of these students were members of Hehalutz. They were trained by expert agronomists. The leaders of the National Democrats were: Jacob Landau, director of the Jewish Department at the Ministry of Culture; L. Fishman who was a delegate to the Constituent Assembly and the first Seim; prof. P.M. Mintz; the banker Lebstein who represented the non–Zionists on the Keren Hayesod. The “Vetulia” Students Cooperation was associated with them.

The members of the Folks–Partei were not all ideologically akin. Among them were avowed Yiddishists who stood firmly in the anti–Zionist camp like the CISHO Group and as against them, stood a man like Latzki–Bertholdy, once a leader of the S.S., the companion and disciple of Nahman Syrkin. Long before he went to Eretz Israel, he had virtually joined the Labour Eretz Israel Movement, and was a member of the Jewish Agency as a non–Zionist. When he came to Eretz Israel, he joined Mapai.

Among other Folks–Partei leaders in Riga, mention should be made of Zalman Levitas who was engaged with the ORT and the journalist Dimantstein of Rezhitsa.

Other non–party communal workers were well–known in the city as well as various party men who chose themselves special fields of activity. Particular mention should be made of: Eng. Abraham Wolfson, a general Socialist worker who was one of the leaders of the Sick Fund and actively engaged in the Trade Union Movement; S. Schmuelson, a Sick Fund leader from the Bund who had a poetic soul and tried his hand at literary work translating into Yiddish Alexander Blok's “Twelve”, some if Krillov's Fables and passages from the children's books of Chukovsky; Dr. Boris Lifshitz, a Social Democrat and a former member of the “Iskra” Group. He worked for the Sick Fund, gradually came over to the idea of Eretz Israel and in 1929, visited the country together with Yanis Reinis, the Social Democrat Minister of Education who was the great poet of the Latvian People; Dr. S. Lipshitz whose field was Credit Cooperation and who is now a director of the Ford Company in Israel; Advocate Libenson of the Bund who was dedicated to the ORT; Dr. B. Herzfeld, a non–Zionist Keren Hayesod supporter and director of the Linat Hatzedek Communal Maternity Hospital; Dr. J. Eliasberg of the Bund, physician and supporter of the communal Sick Fund; Dr. B. Dubinsky of left–wing circles, chairman of the OZE Society; Dr. Shabtai Kramer, one of the founders of the Sick

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Fund for Industrial and Commercial Workers (a general public institution with a Jewish character) and its head physician; Dr. H. Tsivian who replaced him after his death. However, we shall be doing far less than our duty if we do not particularly mention the outstanding and exceedingly wealthy philanthropist, E. Mushkat whose heart and hand were open to every Zionist and Hebrew cultural activity and who was a faithful friend of the Halutz Movement.

 

V

In its public life, Latvian Jewry was not isolated or self–enclosed. It was in close touch with World Jewry through the representatives it sent to World Jewish gatherings and the visits made by leaders, emissaries, writers and poets. Riga was frequently visited by outstanding writers and thinkers together with other cities of Latvia. Those who came included: Ch. N. Bialik; Saul Tschernichovsky, the Yiddish writer David Bergelson on his way to Russia; the poet David Hofstein on his way to Eretz Israel though he after wards returned to the USSR; the poet Itzik Manger; Dr. Hayyim Zhitlovsky; the Hebrew and Yiddish writer Z. Anochi. Then came the leading figures of the Jewish Scientific Institute IVO, the philologists Dr. Max Weinreich and the martyred Z. Kalmanovitch who was murdered by the Nazi; R. Abramovitch leader of the Russian Social Democrats and the Bund; Dr. Syngalowsky, a leader of the ORT and others. Riga was also the first station of Habima, the Hebrew National Theatre, on its way from Russia to Eretz Israel. Its performances were a national festival for Latvian Jewry and a deep experience for the actors who came into close touch with a Zionist public and youth for the first time.

Latvian Jewry also warmly welcomed the leaders of the Zionist Movement when they came to Riga on various missions. Among them were: Menahem Ussishkin; Berl Katnelson; Hayyim Arlosoroff; Zeev Jabotinsky; Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar–Ilan); Leib Jaffe; Alexander Goldstein; Shlomo Kaplansky; David Remez; David Ben–Gurion; Zalman Rubashov (Shazar); Eliezer Kaplan; Meir Grossman; Baruch Zuckerman; Isaac Gruenbaum; Prof. Selig Brodetzky; Kurt Blumenfeld; Nathan Bistrizky; Levi Shkolnik (Eshkol); Eng. J. Friedland of Haifa; the writer S. Zemach; Nahum Verlinsky; Dr. Arie Tartakover; Joshua Manoah; Gershon Hanock; A.I. Juris, etc.

Those who visited Latvia on behalf of the Labour and Halutz Movement included: Ada Fishman (Maimon); Isaac Tabenkin; Joseph Baratz; Aaron Zisling; Eshed (Eisenberg); Eng. Anshel Reiss; Z. Feinstein

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(Shefer); Nahum Ben Ari; David Sverdlov; Zifroni of Ayelet Hashahar, and others. Persons who passed through Riga on the way from Russia to Eretz Israel included Eliahu Epstein (Eilat) who was later Israel Ambassador in London and Zalman Aharonovitch (Aranne, later Minister of Education and Culture in Israel).

Emissaries of the Histadrut to Hehalutz and the Zionist Youth who stayed in Latvia a longer time included the following members of Afikim: Eleazar Galili; Joseph Yisraeli; Arieh Golani and Arieh Bahir. Others were Zeev Shaaref (now Minister in the Israel Government); Moshe ben–Ellul who came from Riga and is now a member of the Davar editorial staff; Pesah Gamadi (Krollik, now on the Histadrut Central Committee); David Hagai of Mishmarot, originally a member of Gordonia in Latvia, and others.

In these few pages we have not given a detailed description of the communal and political life of Latvian Jewry. We have only sketched a few characteristics showing the spiritual and public image of a single tribe in Israel which was not very large in numbers but had a rare quality, a nobility of spirit, wealth of culture and ample activities.

We have mentioned only those whose names came to mind while we were writing. There are certainly a great many more that deserve to be mentioned among both those who are now living in Israel and the Diaspora and those who have passed away.

We have done our best to describe the activities and essential character of all communal and political currents without discrimination. If we have dedicated rather too much space here to Zionist Socialism it was not because of any intention to make the others appear less important. This, it should be remembered, is only a brief collection of memories. It is only natural that details about the group he himself belonged to should be engraved most deeply in the memory of the writer.

 

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